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December 14, 2020

Iranian Dissident Ruhollah Zam Executed in Iran

On December 12th, Iranian authorities carried out the execution of Ruhollah Zam, a dissident figure that Reporters Without Borders has described as “controversial” in Iran and throughout the diaspora. The execution drew international denunciation and has been rightly condemned by human rights groups, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the European Union, as well as the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, and others. Not only has the execution been lambasted for the lack of due process in Mr. Zam’s case, but also because the use of the death penalty is itself an inhumane cruelty.

Zam became a well-known dissident personality with the rising popularity of his telegram channel Amad News, which reported scathing investigative pieces on Iranian officials but was also accused of inciting violence. In one such instance, Telegram suspended Zam’s channel because it “started to instruct their subscribers to use Molotov cocktails against police,” according to Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov. While Iranian officials accused Zam of fueling mass protests in 2017, for some Iranians Zam provided information on protests and created a platform for protestors to share their stories.

Despite the Telegram suspension, Zam created another channel to continue his work from exile in France, in which he had resided since 2011. According to analysts and reports from journalists, Zam’s channel criticized them and other professionals within the Iranian diaspora “whom they viewed as not working to overthrow the Iranian regime.” However, the very people that have been the subject of these attacks also expressed their outrage for the unjust execution of Zam, and censured Iranian officials further for abducting Zam in Iraq in 2019, rather than seeking a legal extradition.

Every individual has the right to a fair trial with procedural regularity if true justice is to be achieved. However, as the U.N. OHCHR stated, in the case of Zam the “Special Rapporteur on the situation of the human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran raised concerns regarding Mr. Zam’s detention and forced confession in his report to the Human Rights Council in 2020.” In addition to lack of due process and the speed at which Zam’s execution was carried out, NIAC condemns in the strongest terms the act of execution itself. Whether in Iran or the United States, or anywhere in the world, the death penalty must be abolished as an abhorrent act against human dignity. In spite of an alarming escalation of repression, harsh sentences, and the use of the death penalty, Iranian authorities will not silence voices of protest through forcefulness. Instead, violence begets violence, Iranian officials should heed calls for human rights and must abide by their obligations under international law.

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